This Week in Lincoln County – June 19, 2018

I have survived my daughter’s wedding and my sons’ graduation. Once I get the election and a graduation/birthday party behind me, perhaps I will be able to relax a bit this summer.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• Taxes. The mere mention of the word puts people (myself included) on edge. This week I want to focus on some tax related questions and hopefully clear up some misconceptions that exist.
• Some weeks ago, I discussed an issue that was being discussed in the State legislature concerning out-of-state purchases and the use tax. The first clarification I want to make is that a use tax is a tax on purchases made outside of one’s state of residence and NOT a tax on the amount of internet service you use. Missouri currently collects a use tax at the rate of 4.225% on out of state purchases, but Lincoln County does not currently have a use tax in place, nor does the Commission have any plans to put this issue on the ballot.
• As stated recently, the Commission voted not to pursue the proposed sales tax to fund 911 Dispatch services throughout the county. While Dispatch funding continues to be a challenge due to decreasing land line numbers, the discussion concerning the proposed tax made it very clear that there was significant opposition to the issue. As caretakers of tax dollars, we have been given a mandate to live within our means and that is exactly what we will continue to do.
• Just a reminder that on April 1, 2019, the Debt Service Tax portion of the Hospital bonds will be retired and the tax will no longer be collected. You will see it on your bill later this year, but it will not be levied in 2019. In an era where new taxes seem to be a frequent topic of conversation, we are bucking that trend and ELIMINATING taxes!
• I would like to share a few words about property tax rates in Lincoln County. Keep in mind that the County sets the rate for the General Revenue (GR) and Road and Bridge (RB) property taxes. All other tax rates are set by the school board, fire board, etc. Our goal has been to keep the levy as low as possible as low property tax rates are a key factor driving the nearly 30% growth in both our residential and commercial tax bases since 2011. Both the GR and RB levies are LOWER now than they were in 2011. General Revenue has experienced a modest decline from .1950 per $100 assessed evaluation in 2011 to .1900 in 2017, while the Road and Bridge rate has declined from .2653 per $100 assessed evaluation to .2421 during that same time period. Keep in mind that, while the rates have dropped slightly, real property values continue to rise with the market which at the moment is very strong. We have to keep the lights on and continue to do business, but we continue to work to keep these rates at or near their current levels without compromising service.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – June 12, 2018

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I am sure that everyone who travels Main St. in Troy is aware that the road has been closed for the replacement of the bridge at the intersection of Main and Annie Ave. Having been in the unenviable position of having to close a road for bridge replacement on a number of occasions, I would ask everyone to please be patient throughout the process. Trust me, Mayor Cross and the Board of Aldermen don’t want the closure to last any longer than it has to and are doing everything they can to expedite the process. We can’t lose sight of the fact that PUBLIC SAFETY is the driving force behind this project, and I hope we can all agree that a temporary inconvenience to ensure everyone’s safety is a worthwhile endeavor.
• Preliminary work has been completed and Phase 1 of our 5-year plan to convert gravel roads to hard surface roads is underway. The roads that are included in this year’s program are below along with the length to be surfaced.
o North Chantilly Rd. (.68 miles)
o Blackmore Rd. (.78 miles)
o South Chantilly Rd. (1.3 miles from Brevator to Ethington)
o Kamp Rd. (.51 miles)
o Zoar Church Rd. (1.99 miles)
o Giles Rd. (.65 miles from Highway 47 to Trackside Farm)
o Trackside Farm Rd. (.49 miles)
o Witte Rd. (.76 miles)
o South Moore School Rd. (2.23 miles)
o Linns Mill Rd. (1.6 miles)
o Himmel Rd. (.41 miles)
o Bethel Rd. (1.35 miles from Prairie Rd. north)
o Prairie Rd. (4.58 miles)
o Jacks Rd. (.99 miles)
• We are currently at 150 miles of hard surface road and 330 miles of gravel. At the conclusion of the 5-year plan those figures should be 250 and 230 miles respectively. Replacing rough, dusty gravel roads with a smooth, hard surface not only makes life better for those living on these roads, but it also makes Lincoln County more desirable to potential residents and developers.
• For those of you who travel Hampel Rd. south of Cappel Elementary, you will be delighted to hear that we have entered into an agreement with McClure Engineering to design and oversee the re-decking of the bridge just north of Adelhardt Rd. The project will require a closure, which we hope to execute as soon as school gets out in 2019. In the interim, we will place temporary patch material to get us through to construction.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This week in Lincoln County – May 29, 2018

Road construction is in full swing, so please be extra cautious in your travels, especially in active work zones. Let’s have a safe summer and get everyone to their destinations without incident.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• Today the Commission and the Sheriff entered into an historic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which formalized our plan to implement a systematic savings plan for Federal Prisoner revenue. While the Federal Prisoner revenues are currently strong, we know all too well that this may not always be the case, and while it may be tempting to increase spending accordingly, this MOU charts a specific course for the saving of revenues above budget projections. The agreement calls for a quarterly reconciliation of actual vs. budgeted Federal Prisoner revenues with the surplus to be distributed as follows: 20% to remain in the Law Enforcement Trust Account; 40% to be placed in the newly created Emergency Fund created specifically for Jail Operations; and 40% into the newly created Retirement Savings Fund. At the end of the year, the parties will reconvene and disburse any unused Transfers from General Revenue to Law Enforcement into any of the above Funds or to the Building Fund which was created last year as a preliminary step to this agreement in an effort to save specifically for future building needs. I refer to this MOU as historic for a couple reasons. First and foremost is that there is no statutory requirement to implement such a systematic plan to save money in County Government. This agreement represents a shared goal of keeping the County on a solid financial foundation. This move is also notable in that it represents teamwork between the Commission and the Sheriff to a degree which is uncommon around the State. While a lot of Counties are embroiled in ongoing feuds over SPENDING money, here in Lincoln County we have united to create a plan for SAVING money.
• Speaking of firm financial foundations, I continue to hear people talk about the “draining of county coffers” to pay “millions and millions” in lawsuits. I hate to rain on the conspiracy parade, but lawsuits are part and parcel of County government, so we therefore spend a great deal of time in the management of these losses through Liability Insurance. Our Liability Insurance covers every liability exposure we have including auto liability, professional liability, and even a portion for cyber liability. Our premium this year is $180,000 and we usually pay under $50,000 per year in deductibles, which amounts to an annual expenditure of less than $250,000, all of which is budgeted and none of which comes from reserves. With over 50 vehicles, 200 employees, 6 facilities, and 480 miles of road, our exposure is widespread, but we continue to work to keep the premiums manageable.
• There will be no update next week as my editor-in-chief is taking some much-deserved time off. We’ll be back in 2 weeks!

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – May 22, 2018

As the summer-type heat has ramped up, so has the workload in the Commissioners’ office. Later in the year we will hopefully be able to look back at recent weeks and take pride in what we were able to accomplish.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• As many of you know, funding for 911 Dispatch has been an ongoing challenge for the County and all entities that utilize the service. The 911 Advisory Board, made up of representatives of all emergency services as well as 3 citizens at large, put in a lot of work researching the issue and ultimately made the recommendation to the Commission that the best long-term solution to the funding issue was a sales tax issue on the April 2019 ballot. The Commission agreed to pursue the recommendation, provided all entities agreed to participate and support the ballot measure. While there was some support expressed, there were also a number of board members throughout the County who were opposed to the issue. Based on this less than whole-hearted support and widespread negative feedback from taxpayers, the Commission voted today against proceeding with placing the proposed sales tax on the ballot. After much deliberation, we could not justify pursuing such an endeavor with such clear opposition. Captain Pirtle and the staff will continue to provide the best service possible within our current budget constraints and life will go on.
• In addition to the easement acquisition issues that I mentioned last week, we continue to watch for the Indiana bat, test for lead paint, and perform a variety of tests and studies as we move forward with our bridge construction projects. Work on Bunker Hill Rd. bridge began last week and Snyder Rd. bridge should get underway very soon as well. Where we go from there depends on the bats I suppose.
• Now that the legislative session has come to a close, I will be reviewing the end of session reports to see what impact the passage or failure of certain bills will have on the County. It looks like prisoner per diem is going to stay at $22.58, which is just over half of our cost to house State prisoners. If you get a chance to speak to a member of the State Legislature, ask them when they plan to implement a fair reimbursement to the Counties for housing the State’s prisoners.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – May 15, 2018

I hope all of the mothers in Lincoln County had a wonderful Mother’s Day on Sunday. After taking my mother to church, I attended my sons’ TBHS graduation ceremony, and then returned to mother’s where she and I strolled around her yard admiring the peonies and tomato plants. This was a busy but rewarding day.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.

• This Thursday, I will attend the quarterly meeting of the Boonslick Region Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) in Warrenton. I currently serve as vice-chairman of the TAC which is the local transportation planning partner with MODOT, and the TAC provides input to MODOT on transportation needs within the region. The current safety improvement work along Highway 61 is a direct example of a transportation need that progressed from the TAC into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP). The safety of commuters along the Highway 61 corridor will continue to be among the Committee’s priorities this year. It is important to keep in mind that until the MODOT funding situation is addressed by our legislators, projects will be focused on the current MODOT system, while projects that involve the expansion of MODOT’s system will be hard pressed to make it into the STIP without significant local contributions. While outer roads along Highway 61 are a logical step in the safety improvement process, they are not going to become a reality without a local groundswell of financial support. The County has expressed a willingness to participate in cost-share projects in the past, but the extensive scope of an outer road system would necessitate significant local financial support from a number of other agencies that have historically been unable to participate. The guard cables are proof of the effectiveness of the planning process, and we will continue to advocate for the folks here in Lincoln County and the Boonslick Region.
• Easement acquisition continues to hinder our progress on bridge projects. We have pinched our pennies to be able to afford to improve the safety in a number of areas, only to be delayed by easement headaches. We are eventually able to work through the process to everyone’s satisfaction, but, as our population continues to grow, I fear that the likelihood of a young driver having a mishap at one of these locations will one day become a sad reality. What dollar value can we place on a human life?

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – May 8, 2018

If you do not share my zeal for the study of mathematics and budgeting, I would suggest you set this week’s update aside because, while it is loaded with valuable, factual information, it is also loaded with numbers. I hope at least a few of you will find it interesting.

County budget statutes are contained in Chapter 50 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri which are available online at the following link http://revisor.mo.gov/main/Home.aspx . While there are hundreds if not thousands of moving parts in the budget, the projected budget, the actual performance, and the history of each can be analyzed with some very basic calculations. How much revenue do we expect? How large of an appropriation do we want to make? What special projects have we been saving for that we are prepared to execute this budget year? These are just some of the considerations in the budget construction. Government should not be in the business of accumulating tax dollars for an unspecified purpose. Rather, our philosophy is that we should provide as much service, etc. as possible to the community while maintaining a healthy reserve balance. Collecting and accumulating tax dollars in a vault somewhere would be a disservice to the people of this County.

To comply with everything in Chapter 50, we craft what I call a “worst case scenario” budget, characterized by conservative estimates of revenue and detailed projections of potential expenditures. It is important to resist the temptation to minimize expenditure to make a budget look good on paper, because the statutes are very strict when it comes to adding to the budget mid-year when you realize that you didn’t make a sufficient allowance for an unexpected high-ticket breakdown such as a rooftop air-conditioning unit. Having the money is not sufficient if you have not budgeted enough of an expense to cover that amount. Some folks like to dwell on projected budgets, but the true measuring stick is the ACTUAL performance. The projected budgets for at least the last 7 years have been characterized by better revenues than expected and expenses coming in significantly under projections which has resulted in a budget surplus each and every year. The lower than expected expenditures can be attributed to the TEAM effort by elected officials, department heads, and all employees to get the most out of your tax dollars.

How do all of these numbers shake out in reality? Since 2011, the General Revenue fund has started each year with an average balance of $2,362,320.81, and based on appropriations during that period, our “untouchable “reserve portion of that was an average of $1,389,194.66. In every year since 2011, our revenues have exceeded expenditures by an average of $570,672.35, creating a budget SURPLUS which has been used to pay-off debt early and maintain reserves. The average reserve balance at the end of the year has been $2,388,899.90, and, as you can see, there has been no draining of reserves, deficit spending, or other financial detriment to the County finances. To the contrary, we have maintained a healthy reserve, managed to save enough to pay cash for future large expenditures, stayed out of debt, and complied with the provisions of Chapter50!

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – May 1, 2018

It’s been an exciting week as we held our first pre-construction meeting of the season, and the new bridge on Bunker Hill Rd. will be starting in mid-May. Hopefully many more projects are to come this summer, so please slow down when you see workers on the roads.

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I want to give an update on the hospital tax. It is important to stress that Lincoln County still owns the hospital facility, which is operated by the Mercy system. Your tax bill includes 2 separate levies for the purpose of servicing the debt. For 2017 the levies were Hospital Maintenance .1583 and Debt Service .1113. The Debt Service levy will still appear on your tax bill in 2018 but will be retired April 1, 2019, so the end is in sight. The Hospital Maintenance levy, which is currently being applied to 2 bond issues that will be paid off on August 1, 2021, and August 1, 2022, respectively, is required by Missouri statute as long as the County owns the facility. As debt is retired, an adjustment in the levy might be made, but that remains to be seen. Love the hospital or hate it, the County had received no offers to buy it when we entered into the agreement with Mercy. The alternative was to board up the facility, put local people out of work, and continue to collect the same tax as we are now anyway to service the debt.
• As a follow-up to my article 2 weeks ago regarding the powers of County Commissioners, I would like to clarify that the Commission is a 3-member body and no single member has the ability to unilaterally issue mandates, especially when it comes to how other elected officials run their office. Once the budget appropriation has been made, each elected official has great latitude in how they spend their funds, whom they hire, etc. Furthermore, there is no statutory authority to withhold budget funding from a particular office. While the Commission has the authority to cut budgets, there are even statutory restrictions as to the extent to which this can be done and in some cases cuts are specifically forbidden. As the Presiding Commissioner, my duties are in some ways similar to the Mayor of a city in that I only get to vote in the event of a tie between the other two Commissioners. My signature is required on all contracts, but I can only sign what the Commission as a whole has given me the authority to sign. If you research the statutes, you will find that there exists a thorough system of checks and balances.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 24, 2018

I hope everyone enjoyed last week’s report. This was just a glimpse into the many misconceptions about what a Commissioner does. If I ever write my memoirs, it will have to include a chapter on some of the bizarre situations that I have experienced, including being pulled into a lover’s quarrel involving folks who happened to be next door neighbors; however, that is a story for another day!

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• The anticipated correction in sales tax receipts continues to take place as preliminary reports indicate that March receipts for 2018 far outpaced those of March 2017. Year-To-Date (YTD) 2018 collections are only $25,000 less than 2017. It is important to remember that sales tax collection is a marathon and not a sprint. Where we are at the END of the “race” is more important than our position throughout the “race.” Our Treasurer Brenda O’Brien does a great job keeping us up to speed on the trends in sales tax collections.
• The economic development success we experienced in 2017 appears to be continuing into 2018. Already this year the Economic Development staff has been working with a new sporting goods retail business, as well as a business working towards an expansion and a relocation into a newly constructed facility that is much larger than the current location. The relocation is particularly beneficial as it not only creates new commercial construction, but it also frees up additional space to offer to prospective businesses. On an unrelated note, the staff has been working with a group to secure a venue for a potential roller derby event in the area. I didn’t realize that the roller derby still existed, but if you are a roller derby fan we may be able to accommodate you.
• This week we are meeting with Sheriff Cottle to address his ongoing issues with attracting and retaining quality POST-certified employees. Our current wage scale is far below that of most agencies in the area, so when we do land a good officer, we soon lose them to another entity for significantly better pay. Unfortunately, the failure of our sales tax issue has caused us to spend revenues on building repairs, etc. that otherwise could have been devoted to improving our pay scale and putting additional officers on the street. Sheriff Cottle and his staff get the max out of every dollar they receive, and I can assure you we will get this situation addressed.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 17, 2018

Over the last several weeks, the Commission office has seen an uptick in the number of calls and complaints we are receiving relating to topics that are outside our authority. Even though Missouri statutes do not grant us the broad authority that some folks perceive, frequently there is still an expectation that the Commission can somehow wield this imaginary power to make things happen the way people want them to happen. Because of this, we are going to call this week’s column, “Jesus is not a Commissioner so, please, stop expecting miracles.”

• Other elected officials – a common misconception is that the Commission has broad power over other elected officials. To the contrary, in most cases we approve their budget, set their employees’ salaries, and provide them an office; however, the manner in which they run their office is entirely their business. There is no statutory provision that allows us to withhold pay, cut or withhold budgeted funds, or remove an elected official with a simple Commission vote. So, no matter how disgusted you might be with an office holder, the Commission cannot take action against them simply because you don’t like the job they are doing. These situations need to be resolved in the voting booth. If you are unhappy with an elected official, make sure you show up on election day.
• Other government entities – the Commission has no authority over schools, municipalities, fire districts, the Health Department, public water and sewer districts, and other entities that have their own separately elected Board and revenue source. While we interact frequently with these community partners, we do not have, nor do we want, the ability to interject ourselves into their decision-making process. Again, folks need to get to the appropriate board meeting to have their voice heard and get to the ballot box.
• Ordinance making – as a 2nd class County, our ordinance making ability is limited to Public Health and Public Safety. The Commission does not have the ability to unilaterally pass ordinances such as Planning and Zoning. These decisions reside with the voters. 1st class Counties such as St. Charles, which have passed a Charter form of government (also referred to as “home rule”), have broad ordinance making abilities. Lincoln County cannot adopt a Charter until we become a 1st class County. As I have mentioned in past writings, that transition is in our near future.

That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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This Week in Lincoln County – April 3, 2018

After spending the last week on the beach in south Alabama with the family, I have returned just in time to enjoy a snowy Easter. Upon my return to the courthouse, I noticed that the screen saver picture on my desktop had updated to a gorgeous sunset on a beach somewhere. Talk about adding insult to injury!

A few items of interest that the Commission has been working on are below.
• I am pleased to announce that after nearly three years of submitting and resubmitting documentation, going through an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) audit, and enduring countless meetings with countless agencies along with various other activities, we have begun to receive the balance of our reimbursement from FEMA. I am so proud of the yeoman’s work performed by County staff in this effort. Again, success was achieved through teamwork and a dogged determination to get the job done. We have received an initial deposit of $77,009.37 and there is a second deposit of $621,462.65 scheduled in the next few days. Additional large deposits for our bridge projects are being processed as well. Our ability to withstand the financial blow of this disaster without depleting our reserves is a testament to the financial stability of this County.
• The next time you have your 2017 real and personal property tax bill in hand, take a look at it and see how much you paid to the county road tax. I suspect that the answer for many residential taxpayers will be less than $100. How much buying power does $100 generate? At today’s prices, your contribution will pay for materials for a 20’ wide piece of asphalt that is just over 2” long. That’s right, I said inches. That same $100, if applied to gravel, provides enough material to cover a 20’ wide road for 45.5’ which is approximately the distance from one side of your driveway to the mailbox on the other side. Keep in mind that this only covers material and not equipment, wages, maintenance, etc. The purpose of this information is to demonstrate the importance of a diverse tax base. Without a diverse mix of residential, agricultural, and commercial taxpayers, all County functions, particularly road maintenance, would be a challenge. The commercial construction boom that started in 2017, coupled with continued strong residential growth, will provide the building blocks for future success.
That’s all I have time for now. As always, call, e-mail or stop by the Courthouse if you have questions. Until next week…

Dan Colbert
Presiding Commissioner

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